Kelly Macdonald as Merida (voice)
Billy Connolly as Fergus (voice)
Emma Thompson as Elinor (voice)
Julie Walters as The Witch (voice)
Robbie Coltrane as Lord Dingwall (voice)
Kevin McKidd as Lord MacGuffin / Young MacGuffin (voice)
Craig Ferguson as Lord Macintosh (voice)
Sally Kinghorn as Maudie (voice)
Eilidh Fraser as Maudie (voice)
Peigi Barker as Young Merida (voice)
Steven Cree as Young Macintosh (voice)
Steve Purcell as The Crow (voice)
Callum O'Neill as Wee Dingwall (voice)
Patrick Doyle as Martin (voice)
John Ratzenberger as Gordon (voice)
Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell
While "Brave" features a great theme, excellent music, and a fun setting, it suffers from a predictable script, a questionable execution of the lesson being learned, and murky 3D.
In medieval Scotland, Merida is a young princess and a free spirit. She loves archery, horse riding, rock climbing, and her freedom. But there's one problem – her mother. Queen Elinor is constantly trying to get her daughter to act like a lady and grow into her future role as queen. Of course, that doesn't sit well with Merida. Matters are made worse when lords from the other three kingdoms arrive to arrange a marriage between one of their sons and the fiery red-headed princess. This causes a huge battle between Merida and Elinor and a seemingly permanent rift in the mother-daughter relationship.
But things change when Merida runs across a witch who offers her a spell that can solve all of her problems.
"Brave" is rated PG for some scary action and rude humor.
First off, I have to say I like the concept of "Brave." The central theme of the mother-daughter relationship is a great one and fantastic material for a Pixar film. I also love the character design of Merida. Her wild, curly red hair makes her look different from any of the other Disney princesses. She actually looks a lot like my niece, so my family and I were drawn to her character the moment we saw her.
I also love the Scottish setting. The unique landscapes, costumes, accents, and locations made it very engaging. People are going to want to visit Scotland after seeing "Brave." The character designs and animation are also first rate as we've come to expect from Pixar. Each of the humans is stylized with big heads or massive bodies or hourglass figures. The designs accentuate their personalities. This even carries over to the animals such as the horses, dogs, and bears. They're fun to watch.
I loved the music in "Brave." I think the original songs by Julie Fowlis are some of the best in a Disney movie in a long time. I particularly liked "Touch the Sky" and I suspect you'll see it nominated for awards at the end of the year. Fowlis' other song "Into The Open Air" is also good and fans of Mumford and Sons will want to hear them teamed up with Birdy for "Learn Me Right."
I have to give recognition to Kelly Macdonald as the voice of Merida. She really brings the character to life. I believe this is her first voice acting role and she really does a first rate job. She captures Merida's spirit, her frustration, and her joy.
What Didn't Work:
I absolutely love Pixar and I'm constantly rooting for them, so it pains me to give them a less than stellar review for "Brave."
From this point forward I’m going to talk about spoilers from the movie, so bail out now if you don't want to read them.
First off, "Brave" reminded me way too much of "Brother Bear." In case you're unaware, Merida's mother is transformed into a bear by the witch's spell. So both films had characters in need of attitude adjustments. Both films had characters transformed into bears. They both had scenes of the characters trying to adjust to becoming bears. In fact, a scene where the bear-human has to learn to fish is almost identical between the films. In both movies they eventually adjust to becoming bears, but then they're threatened to be killed by a loved one in a case of mistaken identity. Eventually, at the very last moment, they learn their lesson and they're transformed again at the last second. The two films were just too close for me and the fact that they're both Disney movies makes the similarities all the more surprising. But since Pixar is a company that prides itself on originality, I'm shocked that nobody raised a red flag about the similarities. If you’ve never seen "Brother Bear," this may not be a sticking point for you at all, but if you're a parent who has seen every kiddie movie in the last 10 years, you'll notice the similarities immediately.
Second... why a bear? When you think of Scotland, do you think of bears? Not really. Yes, there were bears in Scotland at one time, but bears are a much more natural fit for an Alaskan setting than a Scottish one. Why not a ghost? Or a Nessie? Or any number of other Scottish things? It was a strange choice.
While I loved the message of a mother and daughter meeting on common ground, I don't think "Brave" conveyed that message the best way it could have. This movie was much more about adjusting the mother's attitude than it was the daughter's. Merida poisons her mother. Her mother is the one that is transformed. Her mother is the one that's hunted down. Her mother is the one that is unable to fend for herself in the wild and Merida has to show that SHE is the one with superior survival skills, not her mother. Almost every step of this movie is about showing how Merida knows better than her mother. Only at the very end does Merida seem to realize her mother might have been right about some things. So instead of delivering a message about mutual understanding, the ultimate message that I think kids will get is, "Mom needs to totally chill out and let me do my thing, man." I think it should have been balanced more.
There are also a lot of weird Freudian things going on in "Brave." At one point Elinor goes 'full bear' on Merida and starts to try and kill her. What message is that conveying? A mother trying to kill her daughter? But that's not where it ends. Later her father starts trying to kill her bear mother. Did you expect to see Daddy trying to kill Mommy in a Pixar movie? Well you've got it now. It all has an unsettling vibe to it that may be too intense for younger viewers.
But even if you strip away all of my previously mentioned problems with "Brave," there's still one big problem – it's predictable. Every single step of the plot, from the point of the transformation on, plays out exactly how you would expect. There are no surprises in "Brave" and that makes it rather dull.
Pixar also has a surprising amount of bare butts in this film. In one scene, a group of men lose their kilts and we're treated to the 3D sight of a dozen men flashing their backsides at the screen. Later in the film, Merida's little brothers flash their butts at the screen. Then, of course, when Elinor transforms from bear to human, it's not with clothes. And in case you missed it, she points out the fact that she's naked to the audience. It's all perfectly innocent, but some parents might have a problem with it. It's kind of a surprising choice from Disney.
I also have to mention the 3D. I love 3D when it is done right. I'm not one of the 3D haters. I'm willing to spend a little extra cash for the 3D spectacle. And I've never understood why people complained about 3D being dim on the screen. I've never noticed that problem with a 3D presentation before. That is, until now. With the muted landscape colors and lack of sunlight in this story, everything is a little bit darker on the screen. It truly did look dim. And the 3D didn't do much for the story. Nothing really popped out of the screen like it did in, say, "Madagascar 3." I was really disappointed because normally CG animated films look the best in 3D. That wasn't the case here.
The Bottom Line:
As much as it pains me to say it, this is my least favorite Pixar film. I was alternately bored and frustrated by it. I think it was a great idea that ultimately went off in the wrong direction.